Living with COVID has given rise to some interesting sleep patterns. I typically find myself awake, for example, around 3 a.m.

Often my mind wanders to possibilities for future columns, and I turn to my phone.

Online searches, as we know, can take on life-of-their-own twists and turns. Thus it was that one recent night I found myself at the Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington, DC.

This is a rabbit hole, I saw instantly, into which a person could disappear for days. But the LOC is a resource that educates, delights and inspires pride in our landscape, achievements, and people! Better this, I consoled myself, than many of the other rabbit holes that do the opposite.

Meanwhile “America’s Library” led to “America’s Story” led to a feature called “Meet Amazing Americans.”

I skipped over “Leaders & Statesmen,” “U.S. Presidents” and “Activists & Reformers” and went straight to “Writers & Artists.” (You can also explore Entrepreneurs, Scientists, Athletes, Entertainers and more).

Here you can learn how architect Frank Lloyd Wright “looked to Japan,” how photographer Dorothea Lange came to document the abysmal conditions of the migrant workers who traveled in large numbers to California during the Great Depression of the late 1920s and 1930s, how Langston Hughes (“From Busboy to Poet”) became one of the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance, and how Mark Twain came to choose his pen name.

After that, you can “Jump Back in Time” from the Colonial era (1492-1763) to the present.

You can “Explore the States” (Illinois: “A Baboon, A Dog, and a Donkey”; New Hampshire: “Live Free or Die”; Nebraska: The Cornhusker State).

You can “See, Hear and Sing” (“Buckaroos,” “Children’s Songs,” “Disaster, Devastation, and Destruction.”)

Again I rejected such taxing categories, this time in favor of “America at Play.” It was here, lying in bed unable to sleep, that I descended into the dreamy universe called “Stitch a Quilt.”

“If you think about a quilt like a sandwich, then the two pieces of fabric are the bread and what’s in the middle-wool or cotton filling-is the stuffing. All three layers are stitched together so the filling doesn’t move around. These layers trap air and act like insulation, keeping the person underneath the quilt warm. Although the quilt could be made of plain pieces of fabric, it’s usually not. What do you think you do to start making a quilt?”

I turned the fan up a notch and thought: “Hire someone?”   

But studying the images of these intricate creations, I quickly realized that the work the women had put in was beyond price. The very names of the patterns spoke of their dreams, hearts, and pain: Double Wedding Ring, Stardust, Sunburst, Wishing Star, Lone Star, Turkey Track, Flower Garden, Ohio Rose, Drunkard’s Path.

From “Stitch a Quilt,” I somehow found my way to a separate but related LOC treasure trove. “Quilts and Quiltmaking in America, 1978 to 1996” comprises 181 segments from recorded interviews with quiltmakers and 410 graphic images from two LOC American Folklife Center Collections.

The Blue Ridge Parkway Folklife Project, conducted in 1978, explored both local traditions and the late-twentieth-century quiltmaking revival along a seventy-mile stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Virginia and North Carolina border.

To hear the women’s lullaby-like voices, through my phone, was wondrous. I soon became entranced with the stories of Virginia quilt-maker Lura Stanley.

“I have wool blankets my mother wove.”

“I loved quilts even when I was a little girl.”

“I pieced ’em, but I didn’t quilt till after I was married.”

“I never quilt in the summertime.”

Like many of her sister Blue Ridge Parkway craftswomen, Stanley spent the summer gardening, canning, and putting up preserves.

Five others were featured: Ila Patton, Donna Choate, Mamie Bryan, Maggie Shockley, and Zenna Todd. They spoke of using the unbleached muslin from flour and feed sacks, of unraveling old socks for thread, of marking the pattern with pencil or chalk, of setting up makeshift quilting frames by the woodstove in between farm chores.

Almost to a woman, they spoke of learning from their mothers and of making a quilt for each of their grandchildren.

Lura Stanley again: “This is a quilt my great-grandmother made.” “This quilt I gave to my grandson.”

Those quilts and everything they symbolized: busy hands, making do, pride of place, the desire to leave something behind—something that costs—spoke of everything that’s best in America.

“Quilts Have Memories,” the LOC observed, and my mind drifted back to my own New Hampshire childhood.

My mother didn’t quilt but she sewed: drapes, slipcovers, dolls’ clothes. She was everything I’m not: patient, practical, mild. During the eulogy I gave at her funeral, I’d brought up to the podium the little yellow-and-white gingham dress, with hand-worked buttonholes, she’d made for me when I was five. I’ve carried that dress around with me, from apartment to apartment, all my adult life.

It was hanging in the closet not ten feet from my pillow. I put my phone aside, clutched my rosary a little tighter, and slept till first light.



  1. William Potts says: Reply

    Hi Heather,another great column, I haven’t looked at that site. With the Covid19, I have been watching YouTube on my television on Roku. There’s EWTN, too, plenty of documentaries on various channels. Your column is the only reason that I subscribe to The Angelus, although I do like to read other articles. Please continue to write your columns, you’re a positive influence that we need right now

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Wow, thanks, Bill–so glad you read Angelus, for whatever reason, and that my work is e a positive influence. The weekly column especially is one small way I hope to build up rather than tear down…now more than ever we need to create, build, support, hope…

  2. bonitamlewis says: Reply

    3:00 AM does appear to be wake up time for me as well. I turn to prayer to fend off anxiety from job responsibilities. I’d love to say it works every time, but that’d be a big lie!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      At least it’s quiet then, that’s the nice thing….

  3. Very touching. As you probably know, quilting is a big thing up here in Maine.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Right, Ron–Especially when the upstairs isn’t heated in winter, as ours wasn’t when we were kids! Glad you liked the piece and thank you.

  4. “the quilts of gees bend” a worthy read! works of necessity’ drop dead exquisite quilts lowered down end of long work day from their shanty ceiling, whilst the men folk slept, and the women folk formed a circle round the work piece/quilt, assembled from feed sacks/whatever they could scrounge/snippets of worthless fabrics, weaving a complete history of the hardship of the gees bend women and their families! recognised these days by very! high end galleries and the united states post office gave us a series of postage stamps commemorating the gees bend women’s “high arts of quilting necessity”!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thanks, Glenda, yes I’ve looked at some of the Gee’s Bend quilts/quilters: articles and youtubes: amazing, mysterious and as you say “weaving a complete history of the hardship of the gees bend women and their families!” These are the type of people who really keep the flame of civilization burning…

  5. as you do, dear heather! i side with your love of Jesus and your love of the arts! you are a light, sweet sister!


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